What You Need to Know About “Chain Migration” & What It Actually Means


If you watched the State of the Union address last night, then you heard a LOT about the President’s immigration plans and policies. There wasn’t a whole lot of good news — unless you also listened to the unifying message given by Rep. Joe Kennedy III of Massachusetts in response to Trump’s speech. One of the recurring messages of the SOTU was about ending chain migration. But what exactly IS chain migration and how might it affect you or your family?

Chain migration is officially known as “family reunification” under federal law. It is the process by which green card holders and legal U.S. residents can sponsor their family members to immigrate to the United States. According to the Department of Homeland Security, in 2016 over 200,000 immigrants were categorized as “family-sponsored preference” and over 500,000 came to this country as “immediate relatives of U.S.” citizens. That includes spouses, children, or parents, which is why this is the most common legal form of immigration to the United States.

In fact, in the past decade, somewhere between 60-70% of all lawful permanent immigration to the U.S. had family-based ties to the country. However, one big thing to keep in mind is that the application process for permanent residency varies depending on if the person petitioning is a green card holder or a citizen and citizenship is not automatically granted to those who enter the U.S. after being sponsored by their family. Plus, there can be a hefty waiting period that can last anywhere from a few months to a decade.

According to NPR, legal residents can only bring over their spouses and minor children while those who are naturalized U.S. citizens can apply to bring over parents, married children and adult siblings as well. Here’s a small example of how it works:

As you can see from the examples above, President Trump’s family and others in the White House have benefited from “chain migration” or family reunification. So why is the president so eager to end this?

Last night President Trump said that “a single immigrant can bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives” — which is not accurate. Although immediate family members can be petitioned for, bringing over an unlimited number of family members is just not legally possible. But according to Trump, immigrants who come to the U.S. through family reunification are taking jobs away from U.S. citizens and are a threat to national security. He wants to move away from this system and towards a “merit-based” form of immigration (which will prioritize highly-educated, English-speaking immigrants).

However, critics of the change in policy point to the fact that not only is “chain migration” a thinly veiled racist term, but it also happens to bad for the American economy.

John Burnett of NPR explains how “chain migration” is actually GOOD, not bad, for the U.S. economy:

The pro-business types say we need more immigrants, not less, especially in those tech fields that depend so heavily on them. And they worry that if we reduce immigration, there won’t be enough workers for a healthy economy and we’ll keep out the people who’ve given America its genius for innovation. The model they want is to let the market, not the government, decide how many immigrants get to come here.

So, if family reunification is actually good for the country, why is the president blasting it in his State of the Union address? It’s all part of the anti-immigration stance he established on the campaign trail and should probably come as no surprise from a president who ended the Obama-era DACA program (forcing Congress to work on it instead).

The president, who pit Americans against DREAMers in his speech when he declared that “Americans are dreamers too,” seems bent on whittling away at the rights immigrants currently have — while ignoring the irony of ending the exact policies of family reunification that his own ancestors benefitted from.

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